M*A*S*H (1980) – Letters, Cementing Relationships, and Father’s Day

Dennis Koenig pens Letters, which is a bit of a vignette show, that first aired on 24 November, 1980.

In the midst of a huge rainstorm that is bringing down camp spirits, Hawkeye (Alan Alda) gets a slew of letters from his hometown of Crabapple Cove, Maine. One of the schoolteachers there has had her class write a letter to be answered, and the camp divvies them up to answer them. Some are easier than others, and some end up resonating within the chambers of the heart as they confront the horrors of war, and its impact on those at home.

Hawkeye has a particularly tough time as he wrestles with a letter from a young man whose older brother was wounded in combat, was healed at a MASH unit and then sent back to the front where he was killed. Hawkeye questions what he’s doing and has a measure of hate for himself for the same reason the young letter writer does.

Margaret (Loretta Swit) shares a poignant story, Klinger (Jamie Farr) gets swindled, and a small gift reaches Charles’ (David Ogden Stiers) heart.

It’s a very enjoyable episode, and sometimes it’s the vignette episodes that work best, allowing the characters to do different things, and allowing the show to give us something sad, funny, and thoughtful in rapid succession, without detracting from any of them.

Cementing Relationships was written by David Pollock and Elias Davis, and first debuted on 1 December, 1980.

Staph infections among patients are on the rise, and Hawkeye, B.J. (Mike Farrell) and Charles deduce that it’s coming from the old wooden floor that the operating room is built on. Headquarters, however, won’t give them the okay to lay a cement floor, because they are supposed to be a mobile hospital.

But Klinger puts his trading skills to work and bags of cement arrive, and the camp pulls together to lay a concrete floor (in a convenient break in the wounded flow).

Meanwhile, Margaret has to do with the amorous advances of an Italian soldier, Ignazio (Joel Brooks) who claims he has fallen in love with her.

This is a fun episode, laugh-filled, and shows us the camp working together in a different way, all towards a common goal, which is for the better treatment of those in their care. Margaret, for the most part, handles Ignazio easily, and it’s also great to see her as a more relaxed character, making jokes, and having a good time with those around her.

Her character has come so far.

Father’s Day was written by Karen Hall and finds Alda behind the camera in the director’s chair again. First airing on 8 December, 1980, this episode sees Margaret’s father, Col. Houlihan (Andrew Duggan) arrive in the camp.

He’s retired, divorced, and all he has left his daughter, but he’s so caught up in his own thing, that he’s made Margaret feel like she’s never been good enough, and that he isn’t proud of her in any way. This hangs over her the entire episode, always trying to make things right for her dad, and feeling she’s failing spectacularly.

It doesn’t help that Col. Houlihan doesn’t care for some of the things and people in the camp.

Potter (Harry Morga) finally takes him to task, and, happily for Margaret, provides her some emotional closure.

Meanwhile, a thankful patient has sent Hawkeye an entire side of beef that was supposed to go to a General. They have to thaw it and eat it, however, before the MPs come looking for it.

Margaret’s story really resonates, and while I wish she could have advocated for herself instead of Potter, it would have been more dramatic, the moments she does have with her father at the episode’s climax feels well-earned.

There’s more melancholy and humour next week as I continue my tour with the 4077th.

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